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Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 4

<– Part 3

I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:


Does a believer still have a sin nature?

For those of you in counseling contexts, Jay Adams and some of his followers do not believe in a sin nature for believers, only a regenerated nature. Essentially, ongoing sin in the life of a believer is the collection of habits left over from pre-conversion. So ongoing sin is a matter of habit. These habits reside mainly in the body. This would be the nouthetic counseling folks, not the CCEF folks. I side with the CCEF approach on this one. I get concerned with how much Adams links sin to the body. Is sin an enduring habit, or is it something that remains in us? This is partly a quibble over terms and definitions. It seems to me that believers still have something inside of us that wants to sin.

The NT does not use the word “nature” in combination with sin, nevertheless it does clearly intimate that there is some aspect of our being that is still sinful even though regenerate (1 John 1:8-10). Verses 8 and 10 are not redundant. Normally, verse 8 is taken regarding disposition to sin (indwelling sin) and verse 10 is talking about ongoing acts of sin. See also Romans 6, in which the idea of “dead to sin” doesn’t mean that sin has died. The “old man” is not the same thing as the sin nature, it is the connectedness to Adam. That connectedness is crucified. This is a text Jay Adams would use to show the connection between sin and body, but I don’t think that is what Paul is saying. It’s not that the body is sinful, but that we express sinful acts through our body. Notice how Paul personifies sin here: not died to sinning, but died to sin.

Look at it this way: before you are saved, you don’t have a choice of if you are going to sin. You simply choose between sins. Which will I commit? Sin is your master. After salvation, you have a legitimate choice of whether or not to sin. Sin is no longer your master. There is still some kind of sin principle going on. It has not died. You have died to it, its power over you has been broken. See Romans 7 also. There is some kind of abiding sin, some kind of principle, that leads Paul to want to sin even when his “better nature” doesn’t want him to sin. That sin principle is what sometimes gets designated as “the flesh.” Classic text on the flesh: Galatians 5 (esp. vv. 16-18; capitalize “Spirit”).

So is it all reducible to a black dog fighting a white dog and asking which one will win this time? Maybe. But if so, it’s a white wolfhound against a black Chihuahua. I’m not going to go to the mat for the term “sin nature.” But yes, something is still there and we still fight it (Jay Adams isn’t going to say there’s nothing there, he’s just not going to want to call it a nature. He doesn’t want to say there’s some substance there that inhabits part of us. Well I don’t think it’s a substance either. I think it’s a disposition. But I think we still have it.).

Is a believer still totally depraved?

Clearly an unbeliever is totally depraved, but the answer to this question depends on definitions. If totally depraved means that every aspect (mind, heart, will) is affected by sin, then yes, we are totally depraved. If it means every aspect of us is totally depraved, that argument becomes harder to sustain. I like Tozer on this: “God is impossible to satisfy, but He’s easy to please.”

How does sin progress in our lives?

Desire (or attraction, by which I mean whatever Jesus felt when He thought about bread in the wilderness)






“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and to be desired to make one wise.”

“If you are the son of God, tell this stone to turn to bread.”

Temptation begins with desire. Desire, used simply, the way we are using it here, is not sin. If desire is itself sin, than apparently Jesus sinned. The temptation is not just the desire, the temptation is the inducement to fulfill the desire in some way that God forbids. The Devil can’t create new desires. Our desires are created by God. What the Devil can do is tempt us to misplace those desires, to feel them at the wrong time or in the wrong way or on the wrong object.

How do you get rid of a desire? Tell it to go away? That doesn’t work. You have to replace it with something else to turn aside from it. If you don’t, you begin to entertain the desire. If you want to stop thinking about all the things you can eat, you start to think about something else. The more you ponder those illegitimate ways of gaining food (for example) the more likely it is you will gratify that desire. This leads to consenting to the desire. Somewhere between entertaining and consenting is where the sin occurs. No overt outward act has been committed yet, but you invariably commit the sin in your heart before you ever openly act. Acting is that next step. And it is a very small step between entertaining/consent and acting. Now, I don’t mean no sin ever occurs between desire and entertaining. You certainly can sin there. You can have sin at each of the lines between these steps even before any act has occurred.

Sin has multiple effects:

  1. Guilt (which requires) Justice ( which requires) Retribution
  2. Harm / damage (which requires) Reparation
  3. Weakness (which requires) Reformation
  4. Pollution / “dirt” (which requires) Restoration

The Solution?

1. The Gospel is the answer to all of these, which is one reason we need to be reminding ourselves of the Gospel daily. Live in the Gospel.

2. Confession is a discipline that not only strengthens us in the fight against sin, it also cleans us from the pollution that comes with our sin.

If unaddressed, at some point, sins become habits and to live without them seems like committing suicide.

At this point we have covered the in-class discussion of Hamartiology. In our next post we will begin the portion of this series on Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), which is related to Hamartiology for obvious reasons.


Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 3

<– Part 2

I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:

Moving from guilt to depravity….let’s talk about the inner effects of sin:

The human moral makeup was altered at the Fall. Every aspect of our being has been changed. We can do nothing in ourselves that is pleasing to God. We are in some sense not free. We are naturally free but not morally free. We find ourselves completely hopeless in terms of escaping the penalty of what our sins have brought us. This is Total Depravity. Guilt is imputed, depravity is imparted. Depravity is a matter of what you inherit. We inherit a moral nature that has been corrupted and is in rebellion against God.

We get our best description of depravity in the early chapters of Romans. In Romans 1, Paul has been discussing the Gospel up until verse 17. Before he can go any further into the good news, he has to give us the bad news. This begins in 1:18.

Regarding the idolatry described in Romans 1, G.K. Chesterton’s words ring true: “those who won’t worship God will worship just about anything else.” Regarding God’s judgment in this passage, it is outlined by the Apostle Paul as occurring in stages: Stage one, God gives them over to sexual sin. Stage two, God gives them over to homosexuality. Stage three, God gives them over to a depraved mind. This is the lowest stage now. God corrupted the very thinking process. And next comes the list to which they will stoop (vv. 29-31). These are the things of which all human beings are now capable. The capacity is now part of every human heart. These stages were done by God in the past, very early in human history. These are not things being enacted now, it’s already been done.

You get the final description over in 3:9-20. Verse 20 says, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” In other words, humans have a total inability to please God. But we are also unrighteous in character verses 9b-18. All of us. Every one. If you could find a single righteous human being, it would overthrow Paul’s entire theological system. He is based here. How many people in their natural state can be found seeking God? Zero. Zip. None. Nada.

Not only is no one able to save himself, no one has any merit to commend him to God. No one is going to want to accept salvation on God’s terms. So…Ephesians 2:1-3.

Humans are not sick in trespasses and sins. Humans are dead in trespasses and sins, in which we walked in times past, according to the course of this world, the flesh, and the devil. Because of this we are under wrath. This is all part of what we mean by total depravity. See also: Jeremiah 17:9 (the heart, in Scripture, is not the seat of affections but the inner man, the control center); 2 Cor. 4:3-4

People are not restrained from being saved, except by their own moral will.  And they are restrained by it. So how can anyone be saved? There are basically three very different ways that people have attempted to answer that question.


Three Approaches

1. Human beings are capable in and of themselves, of doing all that God requires (a heresy known as Pelagianism)

Pelagius, a British monk, argues that the only effect of Adam’s sin was to set a bad example. (Well-known examples of this belief: perhaps the famous American heretic Charles Finney; theological liberalism)

2. God meets us halfway, or God helps those who help themselves. (a false teaching known as Synergism)

God meeting us halfway is grace. Grace is the divinely given ability to do what God wants, to measure up. (Roman Catholic theology + some nuances they would want to add)

3. God does it all. (Monergism)

Everything comes from God’s side. Humans can’t do anything or contribute anything, God does it all. (Karl Barth / Barthianism)

(Notice that whichever position you take you will probably be taking common ground with some who will be your enemies on other points of theology. That’s the point. No one out there agrees with you on everything, and sometimes it will be very uncomfortable when you have to agree with them on something. Get used to it. It happens all the time. This also lets you know that one of the least ethical ways of arguing theology is to blacklist a view because it’s held by this person or that group. Don’t get rattled if you find yourself agreeing with someone who you wouldn’t expect. Argue against views, not against associations.)

Monergism has to be the correct answer if total depravity is correct, which I believe it is. This brings us near the end of our discussion of hamartiology and puts us on the doorstep of soteriology, except for a final handful of ideas.

In Part 4, our final article on the doctrine of sin for this series, we will discuss these ideas starting with the problem of the sin nature.

Hamartiology: The Doctrine of Sin – Part 2

<– Part 1

I won’t spend much time, if any, revisiting the previous articles as I post new ones in this series. Let’s dive right in to new material:

Sin and the Fall had multiple effects. First, death enters the picture. Second, there are relational consequences between humans. Thirdly, environmentally the created order is fundamentally changed (curse of the ground and laborious toil; fear of man on animals; and animals put in position to kill humans, at least after the Flood). Let’s define some sin-related concepts:

  • GUILT: just liability to punishment
  • DEPRAVITY: inward moral corruption (Both guilt and depravity are part of Original Sin)
  • ORIGINAL SIN: the sin that Adam committed, or the sin that was charged to us in Adam
  • IMPUTE: to charge guilt or to credit righteousness (in other words, this is not just a negative term as is often thought)

Original sin is charged to us in Adam, depravity is inherited. No, it is not a part of the human genome, as if you could find the depravity gene. Nevertheless, it is inherited.

How can God justly charge Adam’s guilt to me? Two answers have been developed:

FEDERAL HEADSHIP: Adam acted as our representative, so that whatever Adam did with respect to the first temptation was charged against all of his descendants. Problem: How can this be fair? How can God blame me for something I didn’t do? Answers:

  1. It is commonly accepted that there are times when people who stand in a better position to make decisions, make decisions for people who stand in a worse position to make the decision, even when it’s the wrong decision (parent choosing to have their child receive or not receive a shot at the doctor’s office). Your child lacks the maturity to make the right choice. The choice you make should be the choice the child would make if they were mature enough to do so. You will at times make the wrong decision, and your child will have to suffer the consequences. It may not be fair, but it’s just the way it has to be. And we accept that. So who was in a better position to make the right decision in the original temptation, Adam or us? It is pretty obviously Adam.
  2. If it is wrong to impute guilt, than it is also wrong to impute righteousness. This means we are sunk. So, I don’t have a bit of sympathy for the argument that Federal Headship isn’t fair. It’s as fair as reality can be. [Bauder is pointing out the inconsistency of people who cry “unfair” at bearing the imputed guilt of Adam, yet are perfectly willing to accept the imputed righteousness of Christ. If you reject one you have to reject both. If you reject both, you are left with the man-made path to righteousness: good old-fashioned works salvation.]

NATURAL HEADSHIP (SEMINAL HEADSHIP): We were actually (physically) in Adam, participating in the sin that he was committing.

Problem 1: I sure don’t remember making that choice! How can anybody claim I was in Adam? Where was I in Adam?

Answer: I think there’s a better way to look at it. Look at the human race: seven billion people or so, and one race. A century ago there was less than one billion people. Was this a different race? No. If you go back far enough, you get into the tens of millions, hundreds of thousands, thousands, two, one. So Adam was in a unique position. He was, at one and the same time, the individual man, Adam, while also being the entire human race. He was the whole race. So when he sinned, he wasn’t sinning as a solitary individual, he sinned as the whole human race. It wasn’t just a man who sinned, it was a race who sinned. And every single individual born in Adam since then, has been born into a race that sinned.

Problem 2: Hasn’t Christ descended for Adam? Isn’t Christ part of the human race?

Answer: Christ is a unique Person. Yes, He descended from Adam according to His human nature. But His Person did not originate with Adam. He is an eternal Person, and the Person is divine. So He is two natures, but only one person, and only one of His natures is connected with Adam. Christ has never been “in Adam” in the way that other humans are. Sin is a matter of inclusion in the race (a better view than sin is only imputed through males, i.e. human fathers), but it is impossible to categorize Jesus Christ as merely human (though He is fully human He is also Divine and He is undivided). His humanity is not all that He is, and it’s the rest that leads us to defy categorization when it comes to Christ. We bump up against things we cannot understand, and we accept what Scripture tells us: He was without sin.

Which is true, Federal or Natural Headship?

I’m not prepared to rule either of them as false. I don’t think there is anything in Federal Headship that has to be ruled out. But I believe Romans 5:12 leans to Natural Headship because the text is saying that all men actually sinned in Adam (it is simple past tense, Greek aorist), not just that sin was imputed to us.

In Part 3, we will move from the discussion of guilt to the discussion of depravity.

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